It’s at this time of year that adder bites are most likely to make our pets unwell - because the snakes are most active, and their venom is at its most potent. It’s important to be aware of the risk and know what to do if you think your pet has been bitten.
The Adder (Vipera berus) is the UK’s only native venomous snake. Adders are members of the viper family of snakes, meaning they have long fangs to bite and allow deep penetration of secreted venom. Adders are timid and only tend to bite humans or dogs in self-defence, so bites are not that common, but with adders more prevalent in our area than in other areas of the UK, we do see cases of dogs bitten by adders. Here’s what you need to know:
How serious is an adder bite?
Adder bites are rarely fatal in dogs, but they can cause serious illness and considerable pain. Adders are shy and well-camouflaged, so sightings are difficult. Dogs tend to get bitten because they run through the undergrowth and unintentionally disturb or startle the snakes, which are most active at this time of year.
It’s important to contact us at the practice immediately if you think your dog has been bitten as prompt treatment reduces the likelihood of serious ill health.
How to recognise an adder bite
Dogs are usually bitten on the face or legs because these body parts are most likely to come into contact with the snake. The area of a bite is usually swollen and painful to touch and you may spot two puncture wounds from the snake’s fangs (if you don’t see these it doesn’t mean it’s not a bite; they can be hard to see on hairy skin). Your dog may be lame, seem nervous, appear bruised in the area of the swelling, or be bleeding.
What to do if you think your dog has been bitten
If you’re on a walk, carry your dog back to the car - don’t let them walk - reducing movement helps prevent the venom from spreading throughout the body. Head straight to the vet, but do remember to ring ahead so we can make sure someone is free to see you.
What treatment might your dog receive?
Most adder-bite patients are in pain, so pain relief is the main treatment. Many cases also require fluid therapy to maintain blood pressure and treat shock. We may also give antihistamines and anti-inflammatories. There is an anti-venom which may be used but it is not essential to successfully treat a patient. Many cases respond well to supportive treatment.
Where and when are you and your dog at risk?
Adders live throughout the UK with greater numbers in the South West, although overall in the UK their numbers are in decline. They live mainly on heaths, moorland, rough grassland and in coastal areas. They live in our area, especially on Woodbury Common, but they are well camouflaged and so can be hard to spot.
Most bites occur at this time of year (between April and July) when the adders are most active. Adders will come out to warm themselves on hot days. They often bask in dappled shade - underneath dead bracken, for example. They tend to be most active in the afternoon, so if you are walking in adder territory you may want to walk in the morning or evening (also a good idea to avoid the strongest heat from the sun).
Adder bites are not common - when they do happen, most patients make a full recovery. If you notice any of the signs of a potential bite in your dog; ring us, carry your dog to the car and make your way to the practice. To help prevent a bite, avoid walking in adder habitats in the afternoon. You can stop your dog from going into undergrowth to minimise risk further, but as always it’s important to try and balance your dog’s freedom and enjoyment with their safety.